Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fact to fiction

I rarely do this. I hardly ever look for a photo of a real building and "copy" it into a novel. But this time I just had to find a house that figures importantly in the novel I'm writing, and this is it, although I've made some changes. This is the old Spring Hill Ranch House that's now part of the a national prairie park in the Flint Hills of Kansas. You can't see it in this photo, but to the left of this house there's a 3-story stone barn that I put in another book. Up the highway to the right, there's a one-story schoolhouse sitting all by its lonesome on top of a cold windy hill. I haven't used it yet, but its time may come. One of the ranches where my son works is a little past the schoolhouse. I love this area and I keep coming back to it for inspiration.

You writers out there, do you ever do this? Model your fictional buildings on real ones, your fictional people on real ones, or your fictional places on real ones?


Nancy P said...

And you readers out there, do you like to read about places you personally know?

katiebird said...

Hi Nancy!!

I do like reading about places that I know. In fact, I've got "a story" about one:

I picked up a book by a local author. It was a mystery about a restaurant owner in Mid-Town Kansas City. So that was the hook at first.

But there was a character and a circumstance that made me read a bit aloud to mister. And he sort of freaked out.

Asking me who wrote it and what I was reading. Because the person & circumstance closely resembled a good friend of his.

paul lamb said...

I've occasionally used people I know for describing the manners or appearances of certain minor characters. I do this because they are thus easy to imagine behaving in scenarios and because it will keep them consistent across the length of the story line. I don't tend to do this with major characters since I want them to be creations of my own.

I've tried doing the same thing with actual places -- homes, mostly -- but it rarely works for me that way. I usually just imagine a floor plan or decor in my head that varies from whatever open house I had toured on a Sunday afternoon, and the imagined structure is the one that sticks.

When my sons were in college, I traveled the route from Wichita to Manhattan, so it was easy for me to envision the setting for The Virgin of Small Plains.

Katiebird - what what the Mid-Town Kansas City novel?

AndiF said...

Well not being a writer ... no. But as a reader, I often put fictional places into my real world. I do leave fictional people in the book, as I'm generally sure that either they or I will be much better off with them there.

Morning all.

katiebird said...

Hi Paul, It was by Lou Jane Temple. The one about Bar B Que -- I think.

Hi Andi!

Kelly McCullough said...

Morning, Nancy, KB, Paul, Andi + everyone who shows up after this.

I definitely use real world settings, both fictionalized and as actual settings for stories--Edinburgh Castle is in several of my books and stories. People not so much. I've nabbed a couple of descriptions that way, but I don't think I've ever modeled a personality on a real person's.

boran2 said...

Hi Nancy. That looks like it would be an interesting setting.

Maria Lima said...

Nifty house, Nancy!

In answer to your question, yep, do that all the time.

Rio Seco, my fictional town is based on Lago Vista, Texas, where I spent many of my formative HS years.

I mention some actual Lago Vista locations in the books (the BarK, the Point), and based Bea's cafe on a favorite San Antonio cafe.

I love taking the memory of a real place and adding my own twist to it.

Hope everyone is having a great Sunday!

Nancy P said...

Kb, I was just about to ask if it was a Lou Jane Temple book. It could be that the character was modeled on a real person. Want me to ask her the next time I see her? :)

Andif, lol. Yeah, some characters had better stay in their books! I'm looking at YOU, Hannibal.

Nancy P said...

Paul, yeah, I usually like main characters to be creations of my own. It's interesting how you might use real traits for minor characters, though. I think that's a useful idea, since minor characters must often be described quickly and efficiently. Agatha Christie was the master of that, imo.

Kelly, did you have to change E. Castle to suit your plot needs in any way?

Nancy P said...

Hi, boran2. The house in your new finished painting would make a great setting, too, although I think what gives it that dramatic flavor is the atmospheric way you painted it.

Mornin, Maria. And your "own twists" are the best parts. :)

AndiF said...

Hey all you authors, here's a real place* to put in one of your books I mean, just look how beautiful my driveway is with all that new stone! (Okay, okay maybe not that big a deal to you but you haven't had to navigate the mile deep ruts.)

* dog optional

Nancy P said...

Okay, that's just a gorgeous driveway, Andi. Mazel tov! :) I do think, however, that the old deeply rutted version would have appealed more to suspense writers.

Maryb said...

Good Morning everyone.

I used to work with the mystery writer Michael Kahn who set all of his novels in St. Louis.

Maryb said...

Ok, I don't know how that posted without me hitting post.

Plus I could have sworn I posted this earlier and it didn't post.

Anyway ... Michael Kahn used to pick up phrases and mannerisms from the people we worked with and use them in his novels. The characters in the novel weren't anything like anybody I knew in real life but I could often tell where he got a phrase or mannerism.

When I was on the elevator I used to pray that I wouldn't do anything that would end up in a book.

AndiF said...

Nancy, no, no ... the old rutted one would have just been a genre convention. The beautiful driveway offers nifty descriptions of the light reflecting off the intensely white stone and subtle metaphors how the desire for perfection gets defeated by the simple act of living.

Plus, Sniff and Giddy say it's much more comfy for sleeping on.

AndiF said...

And howdy Mary.

Been all atwitter this morning?

Kimberly Frost said...


I love the house in the picture. It looks wonderful.

In my own writing, I can always picture the layout of characters' houses in my mind and sometimes I realize that they are based on houses that I've been in (friends or family's houses), but I don't believe I've ever consciously chosen one. Maybe I should try that!

Maryb said...

howdy andi

love your new(ish) driveway.

not much twittering going on this morning with Manny. He must have partied late last night :)

but FaR is up and about.

katiebird said...

Hi Kelly and Boran and Maria and MaryB and Kimberly (This is dangerous -- I hope I didn't miss anyone!)

Andi your driveway is lovely so smooth and shady. I just got back from my walk and it was so hot I'm still sort of shocked. I stuck to the shade as much as possible. But I don't think it did much good.

Maryb said...

Hi kb. Drink lots of water and sit there quietly for a few minutes and blog :)

It's hot here too. And my aunt and uncle (some of my favorite people) are having their 45th wedding anniversary celebration late this afternoon - outside. It's under the World's Fair Pavilion in Forest Park so there will be shade - but I'm still dreading it.

katiebird said...

MaryB, is it too late to buy a parasol?

(glug, glug)

Maryb said...

I have a parasol somewhere ... hmmm.

My mom actually owns a cute parasol - made of white eyelet. She brings it up to the North Woods on vacation and uses it in the fishing boat. It's quite a site. Sorta Katherine Hepburn in On Golden Pond. Except she doesn't look like Kate.

That wasn't enough water.

AndiF said...

I sad to say that I'm joining you, kb and Mary, in the hot weather club. It's awful here. I went walking at 7:30 a.m. and was drenched by 7:45.

Got a bunch of stuff to do today so see you all later.

katiebird said...


(glug, glug, glug, GLUG!)

Bring the Parasol -- If it doesn't work for the shade you can use it to whack anyone who acts up!

katiebird said...

Andi, Me too really (I'm supposed to be working on a website)

Have a good afternoon!

Nancy P said...

I used to pray that I wouldn't do anything that would end up in a book

lol! Yes, that's the ever-present danger of knowing a novelist. We are vampires of the lowest order--I'm sure Lestat and Spike would have nothing to do with us--suuucking every quirk and bit of dialogue out of you. ::Evil Grin::

Nancy P said...

subtle metaphors how the desire for perfection gets defeated by the simple act of living.

Snort! And sometimes a driveway is just a driveway.

Wait. That's NEVER true.

Nancy P said...

Parasol -- If it doesn't work for the shade you can use it to whack anyone who acts up!

You have to be a lot older to do that. And southern.

Nancy P said...

Kimberly, it's a gorgeous place. I'm so glad it has been preserved.

Here's the schoolhouse. How's this for lonely?

Dr. Bill ;-) said...

Positive mention of the Kansas Flint Hills always gets my attention.
Hope your readers will stop by for a visit; a truly distinctive place!

Dr. Bill ;-)

Personal Blog:

Our 22 county Flint Hills Tourism Coalition, Inc. promotes experiential tourism visits to the Kansas Flint Hills – the website is:

Lisa Miller said...

My main character tries to escape capture after killing someone. She runs along the creek that goes behind my house.
She eventually ends up in a West Texas prison camp for girls.
I've woven elements of reality in the fictional worlds of my story. Hopefully enough that the reader will buy some of my not so real elements that I wanted to include.
Is that weaving part of the art or the craft of the story?

Jen said...

When I was on the elevator I used to pray that I wouldn't do anything that would end up in a book.

Ha! Another one of my author friends once turned to me and said, "You're in the book." Upon seeing my eyes widen, she followed up with, "Either you'll recognize yourself or you won't." I think I did but she never said.

Myself, I tend to write either in real cities with added fictional elements or in fictional cities that are loosely based on real places with some of the actual features of those places imported into the fiction. Lisa, fwiw I think this sort of weaving counts as art! :)

Nice driveway, Andi. I hope KB has cooled and hydrated, and that Mary enjoyed her party. Hi to all!

Nancy P said...

fictional cities that are loosely based on real places with some of the actual features of those places imported into the fiction. (Jen)

I do that with Florida and Kansas locales.

Nancy P said...

Hi, Lisa!

Is that weaving part of the art or the craft of the story?

Yes. :)

maryb said...

Well, kb, I brought the parasol but didn't have to use it for shade or to whack anybody (although I love that image) because they decided to move the party inside. When most of the guests are 70 or older - that's a wise decision. Those of us 20 or so years younger appreciated it too.

Nancy and Jen you confirmed my worst fears :)

I've never recognized myself in any of his books though -- so hopefully I'm just too boring to be of use to authors.

katiebird said...

You've got a smarter family than mine, MaryB -- my family would have stayed outside just to prove we could.

And I guess I'm glad you didn't actually have to whack anyone...

And Nancy, about asking Lou Jane about that character, please don't. It would spoil all the fun if it was just a coincidence. Wouldn't it?

Maryb said...

now, admit it. you wanted me to come with a story about how I whacked someone while using a southern accent. :)

katiebird said...

:) I would never try to deny something so patently true!

Nancy P said...

nor would I. ;)

I won't tell, kb. It's much more fun to wonder.

katiebird said...


Kelly McCullough said...

Hi Lisa, nice to see you. I don't know if we've crossed paths here before. Have a cup of coffee or tea and whatever incredibly decadent dessert strikes your fancy--no calories at Nancy's place. Oh, and what Nancy said--it's both.